Strangelove is the high point for Kubrick’s own dark humour. Although it had surfaced in Lolita (also starring Peter Sellers), here is where you will find it on complete display. Here is where you will find out the most about Kubrick because it is his dark humour that defines him. Since he was notoriously media-shy and rarely gave interviews about his films, fans were left with nothing except his films for explanations into the interiors of Kubrick’s mind. Perhaps that was the way he wanted it to be.
Peter Sellers is a comic genius. Stanley Kubrick is a film making master. When these two quantities collide, you have one amazing film. It may surprise casual film goers to know that Sellers and Kubrick collaborated together on two films in a row and I could have easily seen them working together again because both had a flair for outrageous satire. Sellers plays three roles – each different, each brilliant – and was to play a fourth until he injured himself. Watching the normally reserved and gruff George C. Scott ham it up was one of the other highlights of this film. The always-entertaining Slim Pickens (taking over the fourth role meant for Sellers) was given the important task to perform the most iconic image from the film – riding a nuclear bomb like a horse. Brilliant.
Before Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick had already had three critically acclaimed films under his belt. Now with Dr. Strangelove, he was about to hit his stride in terms of delivering films that would challenge the old film making club and the status quo. Critical acclaim (especially later in his career and after his death) was something of a two-edged sword for Kubrick. His films were becoming so intense, so deep, so thought-provoking, so frustrating for critics and film goers alike that it took years for people to dissect them and realize how monumentally important and brilliant they were. As a result, often nominated for industry awards, he failed to get the recognition that he deserved.
His next two films were of the highest directorial quality and unfortunately so steeped in critical debate and controversy, respectively, that he was once again overlooked for his work. As his life progressed through the 1970s and 1980s, the time between his films grew larger and larger. This, I think is one of the great tragedies of Stanley Kubrick, for it is now only speculation how many more brilliant films he could have completed before his death in 1999.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1960s and early 1970s work was brilliant. He made film making an art form – to the dismay of the cookie-cutter loving movie public who only wanted to see the latest summer blockbuster or the latest smash-’em-up. Kubrick didn’t make films for these kind of people. To want to watch a Kubrick film, you had to have a desire to see how great film making was performed. You not only had to have the fortitude to allow him to indulge his art, but you had to allow him to lead you down the path he was forging. He made watching a film an entirely new experience, for you didn’t just sit there and watch – you became involved.
To put it bluntly, you had to open your mind and think about what you were watching. A Stanley Kubrick film is a thinking person’s film. I know that most people go to the theatre for some good old escapism, so that they don’t have to think. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there is also nothing wrong with being made to think about the film you are watching. We aren’t robots. I refuse to believe that whenever someone enters a theatre, their mind switches off. Maybe you don’t want to think about the state of society and the world you live in when you watch a film – but Stanley Kubrick forces you to so that we don’t become robots and our minds don’t turn to mush.
Kubrick’s portfolio around the turn of the decade of the 1960s was some of the best film making ever made. After A Clockwork Orange, he only made four films over the next 30 years. The time between those films also became longer and longer as he tinkered with them in post-production in search of perfection. This was unfortunate, as his greatness could have been accentuated by many more of his films. A Clockwork Orange was his last brilliant film. Familiar Kubrick futuristic cubism mixed with a great soundtrack is only part of this success story. Kubrick challenges many of society’s dark issues – violence, rape and psychotherapy. In doing so, he challenges the audience to deal with these issues. It is a testament to his courage to take on these issues in a major studio release.
Those who took offense at this film and those who claim to have committed acts similar to those in the film are the people who Kubrick was making this film about – byproducts of a failed society. Disturbing? Yes. Thought-provoking? Oh yes. This is not a comedy, but Kubrick’s dark humour (prevalent in most of his films) is wonderful. Malcom McDowell’s Alex is a perfect picture of a man so tuned in to what he does that he has a complete lack of empathy – a disease now rampant in the 21st century.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of those films that has that kooky, offbeat late 1960s/1970s feel to it. I really wanted to greatly admire this film and firmly put it on my all-time favourite list of the best films of all-time. I am putting it on the list, but it turned out not to be the great classic that I had hoped it would be. I had never seen the film and came into it with preconceived notions based on reviews and buzz that I have heard over my lifetime. Most of them turned out to be true, but I was disappointed with a couple aspects of the film.William Goldman is a great screenwriter and an even better storyteller. That’s probably why he has also had a successful career as a novelist. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a good screenplay. It is told naturally, easy and with little effort – by that I mean that Goldman is so good at the craft of storytelling that even the most complex scene structure comes off as crisp, clear and natural – just like it does real life.
At the same time (and this in no way is a negative aspect of his writing), Goldman’s aloof humour is goofy. The easy back and forth banter between Paul Newman and Robert Redford is trademark Goldman. Throw in some of his off-the-cuff humour and you get a scene that most screenwriters would kill for. But that’s Goldman’s trademark. He is one of the best at easy, natural dialogue. Take a look at The Princess Bride, Misery and All The President’s Men – it’s the same whatever film it is and whatever genre it is.
I became disconnected with the film when the relationship between Butch, Sundance and Etta first appeared. The relationship was bizarre. I can only surmise that it was really a menage a trois but censors prohibited the filmmakers from expressing that. I raised both eyebrows when Newman rode a bicycle with Katharine Ross in the front as Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head played. Preposterous. I can see Newman riding around and being goofy on a bicycle – that’s in his character’s nature – but over the theme song? No. The score is truncated and bizarre to begin with and it seems that Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head was just thrown into the film or placed there for commercial reasons – it has nothing whatsoever to do with the film or any feeling or thought expressed by any of the characters. Yet, it wins an Oscar. The only time when this song appeared anywhere that had any real meaning was on The Simpsons when Homer (because his license has been suspended) drives Marge around on the front of a bicycle.
As a screenplay, the film progresses nicely including the extended sequence with Butch and Sundance on the run. It falters somewhat with the over-long montage of still shots of the trio making their way to the east coast to set off on a boat to Boliva. I would have much preferred a live-action montage. That would have kept the pace going at a nice clip. The trio’s time in Boliva is, I think, the best part of the film where each of the character’s weaknesses are exposed. This is an exceptionally well-written part. The ending is superb. The final freeze-frame is wonderful – just as it should be. I don’t think we as the audience want to see the two heroes get gunned down in a pool of blood. As such, the final frame with the sound is perfect.
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